Romance tends to be the main genre in which queer stories get told. After all, many queer stories tend to be discovering who you love, and fighting for the ability to love that person despite societal prejudice and expectations. However, there’s another genre that lends itself well to queer voices: horror. From classic stories like Dracula to more modern queer horror stories like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 to the entire works of Clive Barker there have been many high profile stories that have had queer themes and subtext, but not many have been blatantly in-your-face about it. The new Australian horror film So Vam tries to buck this trend and puts queer voices at the forefront.
So Vam follows Kurt (Xai), a young gay teen in a small Australian town just trying to make his way through school, avoiding the host of bullies and bigots that are out to try and ruin his life. Kurt has a love for drag, and dreams of one day strutting his stuff on the stage of the local gay bar under his own drag persona, and spends his day designing fabulous costumes and trying out different names with the help of his one friend. When Kurt is approached by an older guy who lures him into his car to ‘hang out’ and have a drink, Kurt falls victim to him – but he’s not the kind of predator you expect when it turns out he’s a vampire.
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When the vampire bites Kurt and feeds on him he’s interrupted by the young trans vampire April (Grace Hyland) and her friend Harley (Iris Mcerlean). After scaring off the older vampire April decides to turn Kurt rather than letting him die. Now a vampire, Kurt begins to feel what it’s like to be powerful for the first time, and is finally able to stand up to all of the bullies and bigots that have made his life hell. However, the vampire that bit him is still out there, and is looking for revenge.
So Vam is trying to do something different, and I think that that’s perhaps the only compliment that can be given to this very short, very low budget teen horror film. The story isn’t bad in itself, and does some interesting things. The film makes a point of telling the audience the history horror has with the queer community, and we even get a small breakdown of Bram Stoker’s own sexuality and the reason behind writing Dracula. The film makes connections to things such as how the small town villagers with pitchforks and torches in old black and white movies are like those people alive today who make whipping up a hateful mob of angry bigots against small groups their entire personality. (Something that I have absolutely experienced and can see the comparison to.)
Another thing that the film does that I really liked was that the ‘good’ vampires in this story were all young queer people, people who have been shunned and hurt by society, and who find a family with each other. Their found family cares for them where their actual family never did, and they support each other and look out for others like them to help. April didn’t choose to turn Kurt because he was a victim of a vampire, she chose to turn him because he was a young, bullied, gay person who deserved a chance at a better, happier life. These vampires also go out of their way to be picky about who they eat, and target Nazis, bigots, and religious extremists who practice conversion therapy against queer youth. The film shows that those who we’ve been taught to see as the monsters are often far from it, and the real monsters are the ones hiding in plain sight.
However, these themes are about the only good thing about the film, as for the most part So Vam fails in a lot of ways. The camera work is pretty basic at best, and often there seems to be little thought put towards composition of how a scene will look on screen, and it often feels like what you’re seeing on screen was filmed by a group of friends over one weekend.
The script and the acting reflect this impression too. Dialogue feels stilted and flat a lot of the time, and often comes across as fake. None of the characters ever speak like real people, and the dialogue is often clunky and over expositional, with the film choosing to tell us things, rather than simply showing us. Sadly the delivery does not help with this, and many of the young actors come across as inexperienced. They don’t sell the emotions, move and act bored, and don’t really put any effort into their line-readings. The film uses young LGBTQ+ activists, campaigners, and internet personalities, like Grace Hyland, and whilst it’s putting authentic queer voices in front of the camera the film doesn’t seem to care much for whether they can act or not. Half the scenes sounding like they’ve been redubbed, resulting in the dialogue not quite matching up brilliantly, adds to this feeling.
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I really wanted to like So Vam, as it seemed like it could have been a fun, queer led movie that put young queer people front and centre, but it fails to live up to what I was expecting. I understand that this film has been made by a very young trans director, and that these are all young, inexperienced people in front of and behind the camera, but this has resulted in a film that feels like a college project. It might be a great way for those involved to hone their craft a little, but may struggle to entertain viewers.
So Vam premieries on Shudder on 23rd August.